On a personal note: I have been disappointed by many and bewildered by more than a few leaders over the course of my life and ministry. The task of writing this brief summary of a recent chapel announcement from a man I held in high esteem is numbered among my saddest accounts.
Re: November 7, 2019, Chapel Hour
Bob Jones University
In the introduction of his November 7, 2019 chapel message, Dr. Bob Jones III, Chancellor of Bob Jones University (BJU) and former President of the University, publicly praised Dr. Billy Kim, known as the “Billy Graham of Asia”.
Dr. Kim served Evangelist Graham as his translator during his 1973 Crusade in South Korea. Never one to shy away from ecumenical opportunities, Dr. Kim has served as President of Baptist World Alliance (2000-2005) and associated with broad evangelicalism throughout his life.
Dr. Bob Jones III’s public chapel comments (minutes 2:48-6:00) concerning Dr. Kim and his ministry serve as an endorsement of the man and is a dramatic departure from the University’s legacy as a separatist institution and its stance concerning Dr. Kim.
In its history, the chapel pulpit of Bob Jones University served as a platform for calling thousands of students and tens of thousands of graduates to practice personal holiness and ecclesiastical separation.
As a graduate, I remember well the admonitions concerning ecclesiastical compromise heralded by Drs. Bob Jones Jr. and his son, Bob Jones III. The lecterns in the Preacher Boy’s Classes and Bible classes echoed the same universal warning…today’s compromise paves the way to tomorrow’s departure.
The following is a repost of a devotional I wrote for my church family, October 16, 2017. I am publishing it today as a challenge to my peers and friends to take time to review the history of 20th century Bible fundamentalist. Read their writings and sermons. Do not fall victim to progressives who pull a quote out of context to support a position the men they quote would have never taken.
I am today a 63-year-old pastor who had the privilege of standing in the shadows of great fundamentalists who are now with the LORD. Were they perfect men? Of course not; however, the same is true of my generation and the rising millennial generation. The following is a copy of the devotional, posted two years ago.
Deuteronomy is a record of Moses’ final words and exhortations to the people he had shepherd for forty years. We read:
Deuteronomy 1:3 – And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that the LORD had given him in commandment unto them;”
It was important for Moses to rehearse with that generation who they were, from whence they came, and God’s plan for the nation (Deuteronomy 1:8). Much like you might search your ancestral family tree to know your physical lineage, Moses recognized his days were numbered among the people and he wanted them to know not only their physical lineage, but more importantly, their spiritual lineage as God’s chosen people.
The Hebrews who were 19 years old and younger when Israel refused to cross into the Promise Land, were now in their late fifties and Moses feared their children and grandchildren would be tempted to turn back from the challenges of the new land. Knowing many were either too young to remember or not yet born when the people rebelled against God, Moses rehearsed the failure of their forefathers to trust God and cross the Jordan River into the Promise Land (Deuteronomy 1-2). Concerned they lacked an understanding of what faithlessness cost their parents and grandparents, Moses made certain the people appreciated the tragic consequences of disobedience and understood the challenges before them (Deuteronomy 2).
Twentieth century philosopher George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I fear that truth has befallen many Gospel preaching churches, Bible colleges, and fundamental Christian institutions in recent years.
I am old enough to remember well the reminisces and exhortations of Dr. Gilbert Stenholm, Dr. Richard Rupp and Dr. Bob Jones Jr. in “Preacher Boys” during my Bible college years at Bob Jones University. Those men had fought spiritual ecumenical battles, sometimes open warfare, against the progressives of their day who compromised their ministries fellowshipping with men and institutions that denied the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
Thirty, forty, even fifty years passed since those men waged war for the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith; however, their passion had not abated, nor their determination to pass on to the men of my generation not only knowledge of the past, but a warning and exhortation. I graduated Bob Jones University knowing compromise with those who trifle with the doctrine of sanctification and personal holiness or reject the fundamentals of the Christian faith would eventually be a cancer destroying ministries, churches, Bible colleges, and mission boards.
Sadly, I have lived to witness the failures of venerable Bible fundamental churches, Bible colleges, and Christian institutions led by men either ignorant of the lessons of the past or dismissive of the fundamental spiritual heritage of those institutions.
The result of ignorance or leadership contemptuous of the past is the same; those institutions either close their doors or become a shadow of what they were in their golden years.
Warning: When the leadership of a Bible fundamental church, Bible college, or ministry distances itself from its heritage, it will invariably sacrifice its identity and forget God’s providences.
More than a year has passed since I first published my concerns regarding the direction the board and administration of Bob Jones University is taking my alma mater. “Silent No More” and “A Failure to Stay the Course” tallied a pattern of compromise that has taken the University far from its historical moorings as a separatist institution.
BJU Seminary Seminar, November 11-12, 2019
Board members, administrators, and faculty who have any longevity with the University are well aware they have taken the institution down a path far from its historic legacy as an unapologetic bastion of Biblical fundamentalism. For over a year I refrained from addressing the drift until I learned of yet another example too egregious to ignore.
The latest conference identified as the “Stewart Custer Lecture Series” (November 11-12, 2019) is illustrative of how far and how fast Bob Jones University is lunging toward the cliff of “no return”.
For perspective: John Piper is a non-cessationist and believes in the present-day employment of Charismatic gifts (tongues, healing, and prophecy). While Piper believes the office of the Apostle has ceased, he does believe in some sense of the prophetic gift. Understanding Andy Naselli serves as a pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and is employed by institutions associated with John Piper, it is safe to say…Andy Naselli is not a Biblical separatist fundamentalist.
Make no mistake… Andy Naselli was privileged to serve as the highlighted guest speaker at BJU’s Seminary and the University and its administrative leadership has accepted the baggage that goes with Piper and his cronies—The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, to name two.
Under Dr. Steve Petit’s leadership, Bob Jones University continues to follow a path of ecclesiastical compromise, embracing the spirit of Neo-evangelicalism, and rejecting its historical legacy as a Bible fundamental, separatist institution.
Dr. Bob Jones, Jr.
At least we who were in classes and privileged to be challenged by separatists like Drs. Bob Jones Jr., Bob Jones III, Gilbert Stenholm and Richard Rupp can take consolation in this: While the current administration has sadly tarnished the reputation of Dr. Stewart Custer, they have so far spared the Jones’ that humiliation.
Jude 1:3 – 3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
After enjoying a vacation in the Smoky Mountains, I look forward to being back in Hillsdale’s pulpit this Sunday. We will return to our verse-by-verse study of the Gospel of John, taking up our study with the closing verses of John 9 and introducing one of the most beautiful and beloved passages of the Gospels… the Parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).
Knowing the shepherd is a metaphor for a spiritual leader and the sheep is a metaphor for God’s people throughout the scriptures, I invested several hours focusing on the role of the shepherd and his relationship with the sheep. In the Parable of the Good Shepherd we identify not only the character of the Good Shepherd (Jesus Christ), we also see the evil characteristics of Israel’s spiritual leaders portrayed as “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) and as the “hireling” who flees “and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:13).
Israel was cursed with spiritual shepherd’s like those described in John 10. When the nation needed shepherds to boldly declare the Word of the Lord and condemn the sins of the nation, she instead promoted men to be her pastors who not only failed to lead the nation spiritually, but also exploited her vulnerable state.
The prophet Jeremiah warned the “pastors” (spiritual shepherds) of Israel, “1Woe be unto the pastors [lit. shepherds] that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD…I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1-2).
Ezekiel prophesied “against the shepherds of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:1-2), condemning the spiritual leaders for putting their self-interests before the needs of the people (34:2). Israel’s pastors had taken the best of everything for themselves (34:3), neglected the weak and injured (34:4a), failed to seek the lost, pursued sinful pleasures, and failed to call God’s people to be a holy people (34:4). Israel had become an immoral, lawless nation and God determined to turn the nation and their shepherds over to be afflicted (Ezekiel 34:10). God, however, did not leave His people hopeless and promised them He would one day deliver them (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
The task of a faithful prophet is not a popular one and God warned Ezekiel he would become the object of scorn (Ezekiel 33). God challenged the prophet, “I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7). Ezekiel was admonished, should he fail to warn the wicked in his sin and the wicked man “die in his iniquity”, the blood of the wicked would be on his hands (Ezekiel 33:8).
Ezekiel 33 closes with a malady that in my observation is present in fundamental churches and colleges of our day…a generation that is “talking against” the prophet, expressing a faux-piety of hearing “the word that cometh forth from the LORD” (33:30), and “with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (33:31). God warns Ezekiel, “they hear thy words, but they do them not” (33:32).
From a perspective of outward results, Ezekiel was a failure for Israel did not repent of her sins and her pastors continued in their wickedness. Ezekiel was promised, when God’s judgment falls upon Israel, all would “know that a prophet hath been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33).
The words of a faithful, prophetic (forth-telling), uncompromising preacher are not welcome in most pulpits and one need not look far in our churches, colleges, and seminaries to understand there are many who “hear thy words, but they do them not” (33:32). I pray God might find me faithful and some “shall know that a prophet hath been among them” (33:33).
I realized my earlier blogs stating my observations and concerns regarding Bob Jones University would not be received well by some. While I expressed my thoughts in a spirit of love and sorrow, I was aware I might be greeted with a vitriol that might turn personal and caustic.
Like the culture we live in, I have found many believers infected with a strident spirit that maligns and attacks. Indeed, it is that harsh vindictive spirit that chides many into silence.
I have no interest in debating ad nauseam my concerns, nor do I have time to address every critic. My concerns are my concerns. If you do not share them, that is fine by me; however, do not attack me for daring to express them.
My blogs were not written with a spirit of malice, but as an expression of a shepherd who loves his sheep. After nearly 33 years of ministry at Hillsdale Baptist Church, I am content with being a pastor and have no interest in being a crusader for or against any institution.
Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018
Institutional erosion often begins slowly, perceived by only the most discerning, and too often explained and dismissed as harmless and inconsequential change. When the signs of decay are apparent, it is often too late to correct without a major, often expensive, and sometimes impossible attempt to salvage.
Like the disaster that follows a ship at sea when its captain fails to stay the course only by degrees, so too is a Christian institution’s end when it departs from the very distinctives that instilled discipline and character in its student body.
For more than 15 years I have observed a pattern of change at Bob Jones University that is all too familiar. Like a ship slowly, imperceptibly drifting from its course, the University is adrift from the disciplines that shaped the character of generations of Christian students in its past.
While the University has failed to stay the course in its disciplines, its alumni have failed to hold its administration accountable for its direction. Fundamental pastors, so quick to point out the flaws and failures in other ministries in the past, have been all but silent while the board and leadership at BJU steers the University away from its fundamental moorings. Why the silence? Why the accommodation of changes we know are not welcome in our own ministries, but are being thrust upon us and our children by an institution we loved and trusted?
The University recently announced changes to this year’s Student Handbook that include allowing women to wear pants to class and athletic shorts raised to 2 inches above the knee. Other changes in the clothing standard are summed up as “too many changes to write”.
Admittedly, there were some things in BJU’s Student Handbook that did not make sense in my era (for example, guys wearing ties to classes in the morning, but not in the afternoon; men wearing suit jackets to dinner and ties to go off campus; women wearing hose year round). All of those irritants are gone now, but so are many of the disciplines that instilled distinctive Christian virtues in the student body.
In a video Facebook post, Dr. Steve Petit addresses the dress code changes that take effect in this Fall’s 2018 Student Handbook (see pp. 29-32) and gives his reasons for the changes. Some changes in the handbook are practical and merely an adaptation of institutional policy taking advantage of new technology. Other changes are, in my opinion, a continuing pattern of pragmatism evidencing a drift from core principles that were once the trademark of Bob Jones University.
It is not the individual rule changes that are bothersome as much as it is the continuing pattern of change that is eroding the core values that once shaped the character of the student body at BJU. The distinctive disciplines that set BJU apart from the likes of Furman University, Liberty University, and Cedarville University are eroding as is the polished character that was BJU’s hallmark.
The board and administration of Bob Jones University are following its smaller predecessors to its own ruin. Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Northland University, Tennessee Temple University, and Clearwater Christian College (to name a few), all drifted from their distinctive character as fundamental Bible Colleges and because of that drift their demise became inevitable. I am afraid their end will be sadly the same for the University.
For too long we have given liberty to the BJU board, administration, and faculty, believing they shared the same convictions and core values as our churches and families. It is with sorrow I confess, while many of the University’s alumni have stayed the course, the board, administration, and faculty have not.
The erosion and decay of BJU has manifested itself openly. The institutional drift has taken the University far from its distinctive moorings. I fear Bob Jones University is too far gone and what was once the flagship of Bible fundamentalism is a shadow of her past.
With the heart of a shepherd and a 1977 alumni of Bob Jones University,
Travis D. Smith
An Addendum (09\07\18) – I became aware some of the critics of my original post have tried to paint me as an old “fuddy-duddy”, anti-pants pastor; however, my article on the dress-code change at BJU was not an anti-pants rant, but a question of where the institution will draw the line in holding to its disciplines and distinctives. I believe BJU’s decision on the matter of women wearing pants to class and chapel removes yet another discipline for teaching young women godly modesty and appropriate decorum. BJU was at one time all about training, discipline, and developing a sharp product. I fear that philosophy continues to be sacrificed at my alma mater.
On a personal note, every organization of any worth will have established policies for appropriate decorum. While Hillsdale Baptist Church requires men on our platform to wear suit jackets and women to wear modest dresses, we do not expect the same of our audience (although the overwhelming majority of our membership follows the lead of our platform dress).
This brief blog post serves as an introductory post to one that will follow titled, “A Failure to Stay the Course: Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018”. I am a 1977 graduate of Bob Jones University and one who has been a loyal alumnus.
I arrived at Bob Jones University as a 16-year-old freshman in the fall of 1973 and was overwhelmed with a culture shock like none I have experienced since. This son of the South, born in Lancaster, South Carolina and aptly self-defined as a country-boy was unacquainted with the graces of culture and the refinements of art. I was a rough, crude piece of coarse clay; a public-school graduate who loved and longed to serve the LORD and desired the training and polish of a Christian education.
My childhood home was loving and disciplined. I knew the rigors of rising early on a small farm, working hard, and appreciated the sacrifices of my loving parents. My desire to go to a Christian college was foreign to my family and the culture of my community; however, it was a seed planted in my heart by the visit of a missionary to Alaska.
A child of the hippy culture of the 1960’s and the anti-war, anti-establishment of the 1970’s, I was unaware of my immaturity as a believer, the deficiencies of my education, or my cultural backwardness. I knew little of the scriptures and nothing of Christian Fundamentalism, Keeping the Faith, or Fighting the Good Fight.
The administration and faculty of Bob Jones University gave no accommodation to this southern boy’s worldly-wise ways and even less provision for my academic failings. I found myself, in a proverbial sense, thrown into the deep-end of the pool where I found little empathy for my struggles. BJU had somehow insulated itself from college-campus riots and “panty-raids” that were dogging other college campuses. The school was not only unapologetically Christian, it was doggedly adherent to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
There were many irritants in the BJU culture that were not only exasperating, but provoking. There was a discipline that gave little grace and even less understanding for the excuses and failures of youth. Outside the campus fence my generation was bold and rebellious; casting aside disciplines and morals that had shaped the “Greatest Generation”. Inside the campus fence little had or would change for another twenty-years.
I thank God it was that culture of discipline, tough-love, and unapologetic convictions that were present to shape and prepare the pliable heart of this Christian teen. I learned my superiors were not concerned with fairness, but rightness. I also knew there were times they were wrong; however, the rules were the rules and institutionally the approach was “one size fits all”.
I have learned rules and regulations, often inconvenient and at times inexplicable, are necessary. Patterns of personal and academic disciplines thrust upon us in our youth shape attitudes and strengthen character. When we cast off or adapt rules and standards to accommodate youthful immaturity or to enhance cultural assimilation we do so at the peril of a generation that will never know the enrichment of exhortation or the powerful influence of loving correction.
I close with a brief dedicatory of names whose lives provoked me in my youth and whose influence follows me to this day: Dr. Bob Jones, Jr; Dr. Gilbert Stenholm; Dr. Richard Rupp; Dr. Gunter Salter; Dr. Walter Fremont; and Dr. Dwight Gustafson.